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Should large retail stores have portable defibrillator units on hand?

While portable defibrillator units do save lives, they can also backfire, causing unnecessary harm. For more than 20 years, the percentage of public locations, including airports and bus stations, with automated external defibrillator units has grown steadily.

But should retail stores carry them as well?

The California Supreme Court, in hearing arguments in a wrongful death lawsuit against Target, appears reluctant to mandate that large retail operations keep such a defibrillator unit in their stores. Lawmakers are concerned that store clerks, even if trained, may not be able to distinguish a heart attack from another condition. Misidentification of symptoms and/or incorrect use of the devices could exacerbate an already dangerous situation. 

And once medical intervention by store clerk is permitted, would stores be required to deal with other medical emergencies?

The lawsuit facing the Supreme Court involves the death of 49-year-old Mary Ann Verdugo at a local Target store. Verdugo’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit, suggesting that she would still be alive had a defibrillator unit and trained worker been available. Verdugo was shopping in Target in 2008 when she suffered a cardiac arrest.

The family’s attorney has argued that the units are easily used by lay people, as they are capable of issuing voice commands and carry special sensors that only supply electricity when necessary.

The Court plans to issue its judgement within 90 days. Should the court rule in favor of the plaintiff family, retailers will need to support their customers in a drastically different way.